On June 18, the Scotts Valley Little League Rangers AAA team beat the Aptos Little League Red Sox AAA team 12-11 and, in turn, won the 2019 California District 39 Little League Minor Tournament of Champions (TOC).
Winning the TOC is, in itself, a significant achievement. However, a closer examination of the Rangers’ path to victory reveals an even more remarkable story.
Led by Manager Warren Gravely, and Assistant Coaches Matt McDonnell and Jeff Acton, the Rangers had a regular season record of 16-0. Their victories continued during a 3-0 the post season playoff for a run of 19 wins and no losses.
“During this run and after each game, the Rangers’ players would huddle and listened intently as their coaches underscored that winning the game is not what is important and that giving 100% effort is all that really matters Further, they emphasized the need for respect of the game, the other team, the umpires, the coaches and teammates. Last, the coaches made clear to each player the significance of staying positive regardless of the circumstances, providing encouragement and support for each other, and having fun playing an incredible game,” said Manager Gravely.
Despite their successes and mounting win streak, the Rangers focused on nothing but the most important game – the next game. According to Gravely, the Rangers’ players collectively and individually internalized a mantra imparted by Coach Jeff Acton – “Stay Humble, Stay Hungry.”
After winning their first three TOC games, Rangers faced a very talented Aptos Red Sox team. The Rangers were behind most of the game before they came back with a gutsy 8-6 victory.
As the TOC is double elimination, Manager Gravely and Coach McDonnell told their players that, in order to win the championship, it may be possible that the Rangers would have to beat the same strong Red Sox team again.
Their comments were prescient as the Red Sox took to the field against the Rangers last Tuesday. The Red Sox took an early 3-0 lead and held onto a lead for much of the ebb and flow of the game. Going into the bottom half of the last inning, the Rangers were trailing 11-9.
By getting runners on base and hitting a 2 RBI double, the Rangers tied the game. Drawing a full count, 1 out, “walk-off” walk resulted in the game winning run crossing the plate,
The Rangers thrilling and improbable victory made them the 2019 California District 39 Little League Minor TOC champions.
A component of this unprecedented team accomplishment were outstanding individual efforts. In the last game, Kylen Gravely led the Rangers by going 4 for 4 with four RBIs and four runs scored – including the winning run.
After pitching as the starter in the previous 4 TOC games, Bryce McDonnell started and pitched 75 pitches in the final game against the Red Sox. During those 5 TOC games, he struck out 18 of the 58 batters he faced. In the last game, he also went 2 for 2 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
During the TOC, Elliott Smith, a middle reliever, struck out 15 of the 42 batters he faced. Nicholas Acton, Gavin Doherty and Gravely also rose to the occasion in each of their respective relief appearances in the final game.
The Rangers finished with five players batting .500 or better in the tournament: Kylen Gravely (.667), Gavin Doherty (.667), Nicholas Acton (.563), Bryce McDonnell (.538) and Elliot Smith (.500).
Gravely said, “Long after the many individual accomplishments and statistics are forgotten, the Rangers’ 2019 TOC championship banner will be hanging proudly at Siltanen Park in Scotts Valley. That banner will include the names of the team’s players, all of whom made the Rangers’ success possible: Kylen Gravely, Byce McConnell, Nicholas Acton, Elliot Smith, Gavin Doherty, Aidyn Hix, Benjamin Acton, Riley Swart, Evan Cornejo, Aiden Polizzi, Bentley Clarkson and Hunter Denworth.”
Their season was magical.